Sunday, 14 Jul 2024

The Handball Rule in Soccer: Understanding its Complexity

hand ball in soccer

The handball rules in soccer have always been a subject of intense debate and confusion. In this article, we will delve into the most essential aspects of this rule and shed light on why it is sometimes considered a foul and other times not. As football enthusiasts, it is crucial to understand the intricacies of this rule, as it greatly impacts the way the game is played.

Where does the arm start/end?

The handball rule in soccer states that contact between the ball and a player’s hand or arm is considered a foul. However, determining where the arm begins and ends is not always straightforward. The arm is defined as starting from the bottom of the armpit, which means that contact with the shoulder is not considered a handball. This gray area often leads to ambiguity and controversy when applying the handball rule.

handball in soccer

It is ultimately the referee’s responsibility to decide whether a handball has occurred in such situations. The referee considers factors such as the proximity between the player and the ball and the initial position of the hand or arm. If the player had little time to react due to the closeness of the ball, it may override the handball offense. VAR (Video Assistant Referee) can only be used in decisive attacking and defensive scenarios, highlighting the importance and impact of handball in the game.

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Handballs in Defensive Scenarios

Defenders often adopt a “natural position” by folding their arms behind their back or at the sides when defending against crosses or shots. However, there are instances when a handball is still called:

  • The ball touches the arm, or the hand is extended in an unnatural position.

An arm extended laterally or vertically can make the body appear unnaturally bigger, covering more space than necessary. Therefore, even if unintentional, a handball can be penalized if the player’s arm is in an “unnatural position.”

On the other hand, there are situations when it is typically not considered a handball:

  • The ball makes contact with the arm/hand in a “natural position.”
  • The ball accidentally touches a defender’s hand/arm inside their penalty area from a deflection, a teammate’s clearance, or similar.
  • The ball hits a player’s supporting arm/hand while falling or going into a sliding tackle. Using the arm for support in such cases is not considered a handball. However, if a player extends their arm without using it as support during a sliding tackle, it can lead to a handball offense.

Handballs in Attacking Scenarios

In attacking scenarios, the handball rules are more stringent. Scoring a goal with the arm or hand, even accidentally, is not allowed. Therefore, a handball can be called if:

  • A goal is scored by the arm/hand of an attacking player.
  • The ball touches an attacking player’s hand/arm in the immediate goal-scoring build-up play, providing the player with an unfair advantage. This applies even if the attacker’s arms were close to the body in a “natural position.”
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Handball Offenses and Punishments

The interpretation and application of handball incidents have not always been consistent. However, certain guidelines exist for specific incidents:

  • An instance mentioned earlier, such as those outlined above, will not be penalized as a handball.
  • A standard handball foul is typically punished with a free-kick or a penalty.
  • In more cynical or severe cases, a yellow card may be given to the handball offender. However, this is at the referee’s discretion.
  • A red card is awarded for handball if the offense prevents a clear goal-scoring chance. Additionally, a player may receive a red card if they accumulate a second yellow card for a handball.


Q: What is the definition of a handball in soccer?
A: A handball in soccer occurs when the ball makes contact with a player’s hand or arm illegally.

Q: Does VAR play a role in handball decisions?
A: VAR can only be used in decisive attacking and defensive scenarios regarding handball offenses.

Q: When is a handball usually considered an offense in defensive scenarios?
A: A handball is usually considered an offense if the ball touches the arm or if the hand is extended in an unnatural position.

Q: Can goals be scored with the arm or hand?
A: No, goals cannot be scored with the arm or hand, even if accidental. The handball rules in attacking scenarios are more strict.


The handball rule in soccer is a complex and often contentious aspect of the game. It is essential for players, coaches, and fans to understand its nuances to comprehend the decisions made by referees. As the game continues to evolve, so will the interpretation and application of the handball rule. Stay updated with the latest developments and news at Pesstatsdatabase, your ultimate source for football analysis and statistics.

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*[VAR]: Video Assistant Referee